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General Sherman, a giant sequoia tree. Credit: Wikipedia, Kimon Berlin

Trees that are several thousand years old in California's Sequoia National Park are in danger of being destroyed in this month's wildfires. Things are currently so bad that the base of some of the world's largest trees are being wrapped in aluminum fire-resistant blankets.

The trees being wrapped are giant sequoias, and the largest tree of all is called General Sherman. This tree is about 2200 to 2700 years old, 275 feet tall, over 36 feet in diameter at the base, and with a circumference of 102.6 at the base. (Almost as tall as the Statue of Liberty!).

Giant sequoia trees are adapted to fire, but both drought conditions and fires are getting more intense (climate change!) and can overwhelm them. Last year's Castle Fire destroyed an estimated 7500 to 10,600 mature giant sequoia trees that ranged in age from hundreds to 3000 years old. This is about 10 to 14% of these trees on Earth!

Giant sequoia base wrapped in fire-proof blanket. Credit: National Park Service, Sept. 16, 2021

From The Guardian: World’s largest tree wrapped in fire-resistant blanket as California blaze creeps closer

As flames crept closer to California’s cherished sequoia trees firefighters took an unusual step to protect them, wrapping the giant bases in fire-resistant blankets.

The shiny material that helps quell flames, commonly used to protect structures, is rarely applied to natural features, but crews fighting the KNP Complex fire in the Sequoia national park said they are doing everything possible to protect the iconic trees. ...continue reading "Giant Sequoia Trees Wrapped In Fire Resistant Blankets"

Congratulations America! The contiguous (lower 48 states) United States just had its hottest summer ever! This is not something to brag about, but a taste of coming attractions due to climate change. This year we've had heat wave after heat wave, drought in the west, humid tropical-type heat in the east, hurricanes, tornadoes, tropical storms, and so on. Whew...

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released a report on Thursday pointing out that for the 2021 meteorological summer (June, July, August) the average temperature in the lower 48 states of the U.S. was 74.0 degrees F (2.6 degrees above average). This exceeds even the record heat of the 1936 Dust Bowl Summer.

Bottom line: We need to deal with climate change. Because otherwise the heat and extreme weather will just get worse and worse and worse.

Excerpts from Weather Underground: Summer 2021 Was Hottest on Record in the Contiguous U.S., NOAA Says

Four of the five hottest contiguous U.S. summers have now happened in the past 11 years.

Regardless of where it ends up on the list, summer 2021 will continue the long-term trend from climate change.

Eight of the nation's top 10 warmest summers have occurred in this century, according to NOAA. Only two summers in the 21st century were cooler than average – 2004 and 2009.

Since 1970, much of the U.S. has seen a warmer trend in summer, according to an analysis from Climate Central. This is particularly the case from Texas to the West and also in much of the East from Florida to Michigan to New England.

Excerpt from NOAA: Summer 2021 neck and neck with Dust Bowl summer for hottest on record

Last month brought Hurricane Ida, numerous wildfires and devastating floods, capping off a summer of record heat and rainfall for many states throughout the country.

It's finally over. One hundred years after leaded gasoline was first introduced, it is finally no longer used in automobiles and road vehicles anywhere in the world. Algeria was the last country to use leaded gas (it had stockpiles of it and wanted to use it up), and in July 2021 they made the switch to unleaded gas. Finally.

Tetraethyl lead was initially added to gas to boost engine performance, but numerous studies for years showed that the lead was harmful to health and the environment (it's still in soil and dust). A partial list of harms to human health: heart disease, strokes, cancer, chronic disease, lower IQ in children, brain damage (it's neurotoxic), lower impulse control. Scientists now feel that there is NO safe lead level - that all lead exposure causes harm.

Of course, the lead industry fought hard and dirty to keep lead in gas (and other products such as paint), but even so leaded gas for cars was eventually banned in the US (in 1990s). A 2011 study estimated that the phaseout of leaded gas increased global GDP by 4% or $2.4 trillion, raised IQs, lowered crime, and prevented 1.2 million early deaths per year.

However, while leaded gas is now allowed to be sold for vehicles in the US, lead is still allowed to be used in aviation fuel for aircraft. Eh...

Excerpts from VOX: One of the worst public health dangers of the past century has finally been eradicated

On Monday, the United Nations announced an environmental and public health milestone: the end of the use of leaded gasoline in automobiles and road vehicles worldwide. ...continue reading "Leaded Gas For Cars Is No Longer Being Used Anywhere In the World"

Finally, finally...  the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is banning the use of the pesticide chlorpyrifos on food crops. This is important because we get exposed to the pesticide various ways, but especially from pesticide residues on food. This pesticide should have been banned years ago for the reason that it is dangerous for children - has neurological effects and lowers IQ.

Why did the EPA finally ban it? Back in 1999 the EPA banned “residential” uses of chlorpyrifos, of course with lots of exceptions. Finally, in 2017 the EPA was going to ban it for food use (e.g. crops)  - this was recommended by EPA's own scientists due to huge amounts of research showing harm.

But that decision was reversed by the incoming Trump administration (business interests first!). Of course, that business interests of the pesticide industry come first is not surprising and has been going on for years - it only got worse during the Trump administration.

This year the EPA was forced into the decision banning chlorpyrifos by a court order. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit in San Francisco in its ruling in May, 2021said, “The EPA has had nearly 14 years to publish a legally sufficient response to the 2007 Petition [filed by environmental and farmworker groups].” The court continued, “During that time, the EPA’s egregious delay exposed a generation of American children to unsafe levels of chlorpyrifos.”

What exactly is chlorpyrifos? It is an organophosphate insecticide that is currently registered for use on a range of food crops, golf courses, and for public health mosquito control (in cases of mosquito-borne diseases). It is highly acutely toxic.

It is chronic low level exposure (typically through residues on food) that is especially harmful - especially to pregnant women, the developing fetus, and children. In utero exposures to chlorpyrifos can impair a child’s learning ability and increase risk of developmental delays, ADHD, and is associated with IQs that are up to 7 points lower than those with little or no chlorpyrifos exposure.

How to avoid toxic pesticides in foods: Eat organic foods as much as possible. Many pesticide levels (e.g. glyphosate and chlorpyrifos) will rapidly decrease - within a week. Pesticide residues can be measured in the blood and urine.

From AP news: EPA bans pesticide linked to health problems in children

The Biden administration said Wednesday it was banning use of chlorpyrifos, a widely used pesticide long targeted by environmentalists, on food crops because it poses risks to children and farm workers. ...continue reading "A Dangerous Pesticide Will Finally Be Banned On Food Crops"

More bad news regarding climate change. Scientists have been warning for years that it appears that the Gulf Stream is weakening or slowing down. But now, a report has been released saying that the ocean current (and the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation) is in danger of collapsing. Which would mean catastrophic climate changes. Uh-oh.

The Gulf Stream and Florida Current are part of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC) which transports warm, salty water from the tropics to northern Europe and then south along the ocean floor towards Antarctica.. This is why the UK, Ireland, Iceland, and other European countries have relatively mild temperatures, even though they are so far north.

What would a collapse mean? It could result in extremely cold temperatures in Europe (as well as parts of North America), sea level rise in feet (not inches) among the North American coast, change in rain and monsoons, and on and on. In other words, a catastrophic effect.

What to do? Greenhouse gases (e.g. carbon dioxide) need to be reduced. Pronto. Some articles to read:

Washington Post: A critical ocean system may be heading for collapse due to climate change, study finds

Human-caused warming has led to an “almost complete loss of stability” in the system that drives Atlantic Ocean currents, a new study has found — raising the worrying prospect that this critical aquatic “conveyor belt” could be close to collapse.  ...continue reading "Gulf Stream Is Slowing Down And May Be On Verge Of Collapse"

Recently there have been studies finding health benefits from daily coffee consumption, and some finding possible harm. Overall, it seems like moderate intake is OK and beneficial for adults, but too much (over 6 cups daily) may cause harm. And avoid drinking caffeinated coffee if pregnant.

Coffee has anti-inflammatory effects, and contains more than a thousand chemical compounds.

Many studies do not separate out the different preparation methods (drip, percolated, French press), but just look at the amount consumed daily, and whether it was regular or decaffeinated. When the preparation methods are looked at, some studies find health benefits when a filter is used in the brewing process, but not with French press or other methods that don't filter the coffee.

The following are three recent studies finding that coffee consumption is associated with a surprising variety of health benefits.

Researchers looked at UK Biobank data on 495,585 participants. Coffee consumption was associated with a reduced risk of developing chronic liver disease and related liver conditions. From (June 21, 2021) Medical Xpress: Drinking any type of coffee associated with reduced risk of chronic liver disease ...continue reading "Drinking Moderate Amounts of Coffee Has Health Benefits"

Scientists have suggested for decades that a person's diet may play a role in the development of intestinal bowel disease (IBD), such as Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis. This is because these diseases are dramatically increasing in industrialized countries (e.g. USA and Canada) where people eat western diets with lots of ultra-processed foods (additives and artificial ingredients) and a low fiber intake.

A recent large world-wide study found that a higher intake of ultra-processed foods was associated with an increased risk of developing intestinal bowel diseases. This association was seen for all ultra-processed foods, as well as different types of ultra-processed foods - such as processed meats, soft drinks, refined sweetened foods (e.g. packaged desserts, sugary cereals) and salty foods and snacks.

However, this association with IBD was not seen with higher intakes of white meat, red meat, dairy, starch, fruit, vegetables, and legumes. The 116,087 participants were from 21 countries and were followed for 9 to 11 years.

Processed and ultra-processed foods often include many non-natural ingredients and additives such as artificial flavors and colors, sugars, stabilisers, emulsifiers, and preservatives. Emulsifiers are added to most ultra-processed foods to aid texture and extend shelf life. Even "natural flavors" is a laboratory concoction used to alter a food product's taste.

Other studies have found increased rates of gut inflammation and alteration of gut microbes from foods containing emulsifiers (e.g. carboxymethylcellulose, polysorbate 80, soy lecithin, carrageenan), maltodextrin, and titanium dioxide (frequently in nanoparticle form).

Bottom line: For health, eat a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds. Eat less fast food, ultra-processed foods, processed meats, sugary packaged sweets, and soft drinks. Read ingredient lists!

From Science Daily: Ultra-processed food linked to higher risk of IBD

A higher intake of ultra-processed food is associated with higher risk of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), finds a study published by The BMJ today.  ...continue reading "Ultra-Processed Foods and Intestinal Bowel Disease"

Carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere reached a new high in May 2021 - 419 parts  per million (ppm). This monthly average is the highest level in more than 4 million years! Yikes! (By the way, last year the highest level ever recorded occurred in May 2020.) Well...  we topped that number this year.

The carbon dioxide levels slightly fluctuate daily (they are measured at the Mauna Loa Observatory). But over the years they have been rising (an average of 2.37 ppm per year in the last decade), and each year the concentrations of carbon dioxide in the air are enough to set a new record. Each year more carbon dioxide (a greenhouse gas) piles up in the atmosphere and oceans, where it remains for thousands of years.

This is of concern not just because the earth is warming (resulting in more extreme weather, wildfires, drought, flooding), but also what higher and higher carbon dioxide levels might do to our thinking processes (thinking gets worse at high levels - think of a stuffy room where it's harder to think). Yes, this is climate change.

Pieter Tans, a senior scientist with NOAA’s Global Monitoring Laboratory said:

“We are adding roughly 40 billion metric tons of CO2 pollution to the atmosphere per year,” said Tans. “That is a mountain of carbon that we dig up out of the Earth, burn, and release into the atmosphere as CO2 - year after year. If we want to avoid catastrophic climate change, the highest priority must be to reduce CO2  pollution to zero at the earliest possible date.”

The US has rejoined the Paris Treaty (good), but much, much more needs to be done to stop emitting carbon dioxide. Solar energy, wind energy, and other alternative fuels. We can do it if we really want to.

See latest reading of atmospheric carbon dioxide levels - watch it rise month by month. (Check out all the links, and be horrified.)

Rising atmospheric carbon dioxide levels. Credit: NOAA Global Monitoring Laboratory

Excerpts from NPR: Carbon Dioxide, Which Drives Climate Change, Reaches Highest Level In 4 Million Years

The amount of carbon dioxide in Earth's atmosphere reached 419 parts per million in May, its highest level in more than four million years, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced on Monday.  ...continue reading "Carbon Dioxide Levels Highest In 4 Million Years"